Something fishy is going on in the world of competitive fishing.
Potential winners of nearly $29,000 at a fishing tournament in Ohio were disqualified on Friday after they discovered their fish were stuffed with sinkers and fish fillets.
Lake Erie Walleye Trail Tournament Director Jason Fischer told CNN he immediately became suspicious when a team’s fish weighed almost double what he expected at the Cleveland championship weigh-in.
The walleye in the bucket looked like they should weigh about 4 pounds each, but the total weight indicated they should be at least 7 pounds each, he said.
“I thought there was just no way,” he said. “I could also hear the crowd grumbling, like ‘no way, there’s no way. ”
“I physically felt the fish, I could feel hard objects inside the fish,” he said.
The moment Fischer discovered the alleged cheating was documented in several now-viral videos posted on social media, showing Fischer, surrounded by competitors, slicing the fish with a knife and removing what he said was a lead bullet. Jacob Runyan, a member of the two-person team who allegedly cheated, remained silent while watching a video that Fischer shared with CNN.
“We have weights in the fish,” Fischer shouted. The crowd hurled insults at Runyan.
“You just lost everything,” someone says to the fisherman. The video also shows Fischer telling Runyan to leave and telling the crowd not to touch him.
Runyan and his teammate, Chase Cominsky, were expected to win a prize of $28,760, Fischer told CNN. The prize money for each tournament it runs comes from the entry fee each angler pays to participate.
Fischer hosts about eight tournaments during the year, drawing competitors from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, he said. Competitors compete to see who can achieve the highest total weight for a bucket of five walleyes caught in Lake Erie.
Neither Runyan nor Cominsky responded to CNN’s request for comment.
Fischer said tournament officials are in contact with local authorities.
Stephanie O’Grady, a media and outreach specialist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, told CNN the department collected evidence on Friday and was preparing a report for the Cuyahoga County District Attorney’s Office.
“As this is an open investigation, we have no further comment at this time,” she wrote in an email to CNN.
Fischer was “absolutely disgusted” when he discovered the alleged cheating, he said. “It’s a family atmosphere,” he said. “We are all proud of this sport.”
“Everybody sacrifices so much” to organize and participate in tournaments, he said.
Orchestrating the big event takes valuable time away from his family, he added. “For someone to essentially cheat them not just out of money but family time, I can’t believe they would.”
Fischer said he knew Runyan and Cominsky from other tournaments, noting that they had won several tournaments before.
But he said they won’t be competing in the Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament anytime soon.
“They could never fish mine,” he said.